I am building a world that combines high fantasy and black powder, and would like some insight as to how warfare might be conducted in such a world.

In this world, an absence of magic for several millennia has lead to the development of technologies much like our own. While magic was not practiced, many magical texts and artifacts survived the years and serve mostly as a curiosity to the wealthy who could afford them. However, in the last hundred years, it is discovered that blood can be used to channel magical energies. While any blood will do, the blood of mythical creatures like manticores, chimeras and the like are much more potent for casting magic.


Now that magic has resurfaced, the rulers of the land have obviously began to pour resources into research and development of magical weaponry and mages for the use of warfare. While their numbers are limited compared to a standard soldier, these mages can cause tremendous damage on the battlefield.

Magic in this world works a lot like magic in a D&D setting, with better mages being able to cast better spells, and limited to a certain number of spells per day, with the exception of basic spells. In addition, mages require blood to cast these spells, from drops of blood for a simple frostbolt to a bottle for a fireball and beyond. As such, spellcasting is limited by mage ability and the amount of blood a nation can provide to its armies. It should also be noted that, where possible, mages might extract blood from fallen soldiers to fuel their casting.

Magic is not limited to evocation, but includes illusions, mind altering effects, and defensive wards, among other things.


The technology of this world is slightly inferior to civil war era technology. Most weapons are black powder, although there are experimental versions of repeating rifles and revolvers. The steam engine has just been developed and trains are limited both by technology and the lack of infrastructure to build networks of tracks. Armor is still useful, due to stronger steel and rare metals like adamantium, which can withstand gunshots. However, most likely full plate has been fazed out for armor that protected only the vitals.

While warfare during this era in our world consisted of large armies, tight formations, and an increase in unskilled combatants and in sieges, I imagine that this will not be the case with fireballs being thrown about.

With all that being said, How might magic affect renaissance era warfare?

  • $\begingroup$ You're asking a lot of different and broad questions. $\endgroup$ – sphennings May 4 '17 at 16:26
  • $\begingroup$ Hi, thanks for the tip, how do you suggest I streamline this? $\endgroup$ – Jim Wu May 4 '17 at 16:27
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    $\begingroup$ I'd start by reading the answers to this question and their links. Once you have sufficient rep I would use the sandbox to try out questions and get feedback before posting. $\endgroup$ – sphennings May 4 '17 at 16:32
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    $\begingroup$ Hi there, Jim. We get a lot of questions phrased: 'How would things be different if x?' here at Worldbuilding. These questions generally touch on too many topics to be answered in the format here, so we close them as too broad. You should ask your question in the form 'How would y be different if x?' For example, "How would land drakes be used in Renaissance Era warfare?" Also, make sure to use the search so you can be sure your question isn't already asked. For now, I'm voting to close this question as 'too broad.' You can edit to narrow it down and nominate for re-opening if it gets closed. $\endgroup$ – kingledion May 4 '17 at 19:00

It seems likely that nations would immediately start capturing, hoarding and mating in captivity the magical creatures, in order to harvest a supply of blood, and prevent others from gaining that blood. So those disappear from the landscape pretty quick.

And the compounds where these are kept become a natural target for competitors: Either to destroy (and limit their opponent's ability to conduct magic) or capture (even better, if more costly).

Secrecy, intrigue, spying, bribery and corruption in selling information are rampant: Where are they taking the magical creatures?

A major technology push (using science and magic) mus emerge; can we detect the mages, before they do magic? Because (say) mages must be present both to capture a compound and wrangle the magical creatures to be stolen. How else can we transport them from the heart of kingdom A to kingdom B? We can't just march them there, we'd be attacked constantly on the way by mages and military alike. Or maybe we can march them under an invisibility cloak, at night, and make them slumber during the day.

This question is often asked; and the answer is the same: Magic will play out like any other innovative technology. The Gatling Gun might as well have been a type of magic when it first appeared, the Atomic Bomb might as well have been a type of magic when it first appeared. Ditto for the repeating handgun versus the muzzle-loaded rifle, or even the bullet with its self-contained charge vs. a solid iron muzzle loaded ball with a separate charge. Or mustard-gas or sarin gas, those might as well be horrific magics. Like these weapons, magic just causes some sort of damage, the opponents cannot defeat the weapon or understand how it works, they just suffer the outcome.

Just beware, as in all stories, if your weapon is too strong, you kill your story. There has to be struggle, which means the underdog must have some plausible chance, even if it is a long shot, of defeating their more powerful opponent. This must be true even if the underdog is the "bad guy", nobody wants a game or story where the outcome seems certain, and then without any twists, problems or complications the expected simply comes to pass.

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You postulate that magic returned within the last 100 years. That means the military has probably only had actual battlefield-ready mages for the last 50-75 years, since it would take a while for them to ramp up their Mage R&D. Mages might eventually form their own units, like Airborne units in the modern US Army. Or even eventually their own force, like the US Air Force splitting off from the Army. But not yet.

If Magic is prevalent enough to support the numbers, you might see magic brigades. If the numbers don't support that, then they are probably a still organized into artillery brigades. Either way, they'd be organized into Regiments.

I think it reasonable to assume your Mages might eventually grow to their own corps or possibly even to their own branch (see US Air Force). But not during your time period. Magic is too new.

Instead, I believe you'd find them embedded in existing units of both the armies and navies.

The make-up of the US Army during the Civil War was as follows:

Two or more divisions would be organized into a corps. A corps typically included infantry, cavalry, and artillery units, the idea being that a corps was a formation that could conduct independent operations [insert Magic units here].

Two or more brigades would be organized into a division. Divisions tended to be slightly smaller in the Union army--usually two or three brigades. Confederate divisions could include as many as five or six brigades. Divisions were led by major generals.

Two or more regiments would be organized into a brigade. Note that it was uncommon for the branches of the army--infantry, cavalry, and artillery--to be mixed within a brigade. A typical brigade would consist of between three and five regiments and be led by a brigadier general.

The regiment was the basic maneuver unit of the Civil War. [...] Regiments were usually led by colonels.

So your Mages would probably start off as working within the artillery units and by now are probably their own regiments.

This also means you'd have wizard Colonels and possibly wizard Brigadier Generals. That's the highest rank you'd find in the Wizardry side of the military.

As for tactics, they would probably be used like artillery more than anything else. They'd adapt those tactics as best they could. As the number of Mages grows, the range of tactics will expand. They may, long-term, become something like special forces soldiers today. Or they'd have some mages in support roles within existing special forces units (for those buff spells!), but not yet.

One surprisingly dark possibility is that prisoners of war may find themselves used as wizard-fuel rather than being dumped in horrific war camps. I suspect officers would be immune to that risk in most cases. But the conscripted ranks of privates would be fodder for the war machine. This would warp the future of warfare in ways that would ripple out. The Geneva Conventions would eventually have to deal with this.

The military would hopefully be less willing to use their own soldiers as fuel. But they would do so in times of need. "Sorry, son. That leg wound has sepsis. Rather than amputating and probably killing you from gangrene, we're gonna hand you over to the Wizards. But your parents will get your Red Heart medal. chin up, lad!"

The above two paragraphs mean that literally everyone, in or out of the military, would fear and hate wizards. Anyone wearing whatever distinct uniform/emblem denoting membership in a wizardry regiment would be despised. Blood magic would cause some serious distrust and hate. Especially in the USA, given their history of religious persecution (see also Salem Witch Trials).

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